Guest Post: The Pinnacle of Torah Study

In honor of Tu Bishvat check out this article written by Koren Production Manager Avishai Magence reflecting on the impact of the recent completion of The Noé Edition Koren Talmud Bavli. 

The Pinnacle of Torah Study

By Rabbi Avishai Magence

In tractate Rosh Hashana, the tractate which discusses Tu Bishvat among other Rashei Shanim (annual beginnings), we find the source for a relatively well know phrase, benei maron, which is used in prayer during the high holidays:

“On Rosh HaShana all creatures pass before Him like benei maron.”

(RH 16A)

The Talmud on Daf 18A discusses this phrase:

The Gemara asks: What is the meaning of the phrase benei maron? The Gemara answers:

  • Here in Babylonia they interpreted it to mean: Like a flock of sheep [kivnei imarna].
  • Reish Lakish disagreed and said: Like the ascent of Beit Maron, which was very steep; one standing at the summit could discern all those climbing the mountain with a single look.
  • Rav Yehuda said that Shmuel said another opinion: Like the soldiers of the house of King David, who could be surveyed with a single glance.

In the classic style of learning it would be enough to understand the simple meaning of the Talmud’s words and move on. However, with the access we now have to all areas of Eretz Yisrael there is a deeper level we can reach.

With regard to the interpretation offered by Reish Lakish above, Rabbi Steinsaltz teaches us that Beit Maron, the version of the text which we have, is referring to Mount Meron. Anyone who has visited the site knows it is a very tall mountain with a steep ascent, surrounded by vast plains. The combination of these two aspects enables one who is standing atop that mountain to clearly survey an immense area below in all directions.

It is clear the sages meant to convey this idea to people who can themselves have this unique experience and gain the feeling of awe that comes with it (Reish Lakish, who is the one quoted here, in fact lived in Tiberias which is about 15 miles away from Mount Meron.) One in turn will be able to sense the awe of Rosh Hashana, the day when God surveys all creatures at once as if standing at the top of Mount Meron. This practical experience was not possible for most Jews for nearly two thousand years, but we now live in a time in which we can go back to our roots and recreate the way the rabbis intended for us to study Torah.

Another tool which we have available to us today which can enhance our learning is the use of full color images. For those who have not yet been able to visit the site and for those who have and would like a reminder, a panoramic view of Mount Meron is displayed depicting the steep ascent and the plains below.

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This is but one example of how we can combine real life experiences with the study of Torah in order to achieve a synergistic effect. It is not a new way of learning; it is a significant enhancement to the traditional method. When one studies Torah in this manner, i.e., by referencing worldly knowledge and encounters, as is clearly the intent of the sages as illustrated above, one will surely be influenced in the opposite direction, namely have the Torah impact their lives.

A few weeks after the historic Siyum HaShas events, which attracted thousands of people around the globe, we see a growing interest in studying Talmud. It is clear from the pages that the Sages reference abundant aspects of life, making references to science, geography and even the practices of the ancient Near Eastern civilizations that surrounded them. In The Noé Edition Koren Talmud Bavli, we see how much Rabbi Steinsaltz’s broad scholarship helps us understand the words of the Sages and like we see in the sugya above, enhances our appreciation of the natural world around us.

No other edition of Talmud honors the centrality of Eretz Yisrael like The Noé Edition Koren Talmud Bavli. Learn a page and experience the difference.

Rabbi Avishai Magence is Production Manager at Koren Publishers and served as image curator on The Noé Edition Koren Talmud Bavli.

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